After braving the heat of Arkansas and Oklahoma last year, we decided this year we’d go someplace not as hot. Someplace really far north. And so we went to Minnesota.
My wife and I went here on our honeymoon, and we had a great time, but we haven’t been back since then. This was our chance to repeat some good memories now that we have kids, as well as to do some new things.
One thing about traveling with kids is that road trips suck. You absolutely do not want to spend too much time in a vehicle with your kids. It doesn’t matter if they’re the greatest kids in the world, brought 2 DSes each, a stack of DVDs 16 feet high, and a bookshelf that would have been the envy of Thomas Jefferson. These kids may have all possible entertainments available to them, but that does not cancel out the fact that they are stuck in a van for hours.
So when planning this trip, we decided it would not be advisable to try the whole 11-hour trip in one go (and before you start to say, “It doesn’t take that long to go from the Ozarks to the Twin Cities,” let me remind you—we are travelling with children), and looked for ways to break it up. We decided on Adventureland in Des Moines on the way up and Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha on the way back. Imagine my excitement when Adventureland, which we were already planning to visit, announced a new coaster! And a first of its kind in the US!
And so we trekked up the lonely I-35 through corn fields, and soybean fields, and corn fields, and more corn fields, and soybean fields…. Screw it, let’s get to the good part.
Having spent the night in Des Moines, we got up early to get to Adventureland by opening. Des Moines is not a big city, and even though our hotel was on the west side, we were able to get to the park in about 20 minutes. Parking was plentiful, and all the spots seemed to be very close.
Theming: Other than Outlaw Gulch, with its pretty bland Western theme, there really isn’t much. They do make attempts here and there, but overall not great. The landscaping is acceptable, but nothing striking. The park could really improve in this aspect.
Food: We had bought a $50 card from the website, which is as close to a dining plan as this place has. It really made the day a lot easier, as we could just use the card at each food stall and thereby budget food expenses. All the food was cheap, and $50 actually did buy food for 5 people all day. The food court near the rapids ride was the standout; they had something for everyone, including some decent gyros and some very good mini donuts.
Service: Typical Midwestern service. Everyone was friendly, but didn’t really seem to go out of their way for anything. Met my expectations.
Waterpark: This place has one of the best lazy rivers I’ve seen. There are cabanas all along it—great perk for those who reserved them—and the route actually made it a good way to get from place to place. Plus, there’s a wet bar in the middle of it.
As for the slides, the red, white, and blue speed slide had some great air on the drop. Everything else was good but not especially memorable. They do have a good variety, though, and cover all the bases. The kids’ splash area is nearly identical to the one at Oceans of Fun, and the kids had a lot of fun there.
Water rides: Saw Mill Splash was down the whole day, but from what I hear, we didn’t miss much. Raging River is tame but fun. Not one of the best rapids rides, but I do appreciate one with a 36” minimum, so we could all ride together. I would have liked it better were it not for the lethargic loading procedures (one boat at a time) that caused horrific stacking. Made an already long line that much slower.
Flat rides: Again they have all the bases covered here. The standouts were Storm Chaser, Space Shot, Der Flinger, Himalaya, and Falling Star. Great job of preserving some classics while also investing in new thrills.
Dragon – This is a decent but not great double-looping coaster. The main draw is that it has a 42” minimum, and can serve as a kid’s first inverting coaster. It wasn’t as rough as a lot of people have said.
Monster – Amazing! The beyond-vertical drop is very forceful and disorienting, and the rest of the course is loopy perfection. It slows down a lot by the end but uses this to its advantage. The final inversion produces some pretty fierce hangtime. This is a winner.
Outlaw – Probably the second best coaster after Monster. It’s got great pacing, sweeping curves, and some airtime. It especially looks beautiful from the lazy river.
Tornado – This is a true classic, and has a ton of airtime. It isn’t rough at all, because of course we sat in the middle bench of these three-bench PTC’s. This will be a recurring theme on this trip.
Underground – More of a dark ride than an actual roller coaster. We went into it with that expectation, and it was very fun. Even my youngest liked it, and she won’t go on anything bigger than a Wacky Worm.
Oh, I should also mention, they have a Skyride, and it goes right through the middle of Monster. If you don’t like Skyrides, first go see a physician and/or psychiatric professional, and then second go ride this one. It is seriously cool going over/under/through the coaster.
Take the A-Train!
Meeting some characters.
Their Main Street has to be one of the best entrances to any theme park.
Really sets you up for a level of immersion the rest of the park fails to deliver.
So much to see already!
Including this K'Nex Ferris wheel
And this gluten free ride.
Sky Ride...THROUGH THE TREES!
Plenty of stuff here for the little ones, like this car ride.
But we're here for this beauty.
Sky Ride, of course. What did you think I meant?
I kid! I kid! Of course we're here for the pig.
All right, fine. I've teased enough. Monster pics!
For the gear and chain enthusiasts. You be you. I don't judge.
Working our way to the back of the park now, Underground was quirky but awesome.
Obligatory '50's diner.
If you need some luck, this lady's got some.
This is totally not a ripoff. I don't know what sandwich place you're thinking of.
Of course, like every landlocked state, Iowa has a lighthouse.
Across this bridge there be dragons.
I'm not sure where we're standing constitutes a tornado shelter....
Only shot I have of the waterpark. I don't take photos in waterparks, because I find it kind of creepy.
Biergarten. If you're unimpressed by all the cans of beer, as I was, just make a stop here. They've got what you're drinkin'.
Oh hell no.
Everyone loves a good der-flingin'.
It's almost like they've been shot right into space!
These riders didn't quite make it to space.
And now for Tornado, a good old-fashioned coaster in a corn field!
Notice the happy expression of the girl in the middle bench, and the pained expressions of the people in the wheel seats. Learn from this.
For some of us, this was more our speed.
The rapids ride was good. Now if only they could figure out how to operate it....
Beautiful little ride plaza out in the woods.
And I'll leave you with this shot of oblivious and/or suicidal geese.
With the name of this thread referencing Minnesota’s lakes, I feel obligated to show you some. The second day of our trip was mostly a driving day, as we went from Des Moines to Duluth. We stopped for lunch at Clear Lake, which is a lovely little town. We enjoyed the break from driving, spending all of our time at the town’s central park and on the lakefront.
After returning to the car, we resumed our northward journey all the way to a much, much bigger lake: Lake Superior, or as Minnesotans apparently call it, “the lake.”
Duluth was a lovely town, and this was our first time back since 2007. This was a real vacation, not just a coaster tour, so Duluth was to be the “down time” of the vacation—just a nice, relaxing location, perfect for hanging out and talking and in general not being in a hurry to go anywhere. We ate dinner at the Canal Park Brewing Company, and it’s highly recommended! There was a bit of a wait to get in, but that was easily passed outside at the lake shore. The restaurant is right on the lake, and they have al fresco seating too. They brew all their beers in-house (about a dozen varieties in all!), and if you’re like me and want to sample EVERYTHING, they have flights!
The Lakewalk is a civic park right along the lakefront with a boardwalk and all kinds of nautical things to see. It’s a really relaxing environment, and a fantastic city park. We enjoyed watching the bridge rise for the boats, as well as the many Pokémon Go stops!
The next day we did some sightseeing of the town itself. The library was a fantastic piece of architecture and really a centerpiece for the town. Across the street is Union Station, home of Duluth’s North Shore Scenic Railway, featuring a museum and excursion trains.
In the afternoon, we headed up to Spirit Mountain Adventure Park. It’s a little pricey for what’s there, which is a 9-hole mini golf course, a jumping pillow, and an alpine coaster. The girls played mini golf while my son and I rode our very first alpine coaster! It was a great ride, and very different from any other coaster experience. They do allow you to run at full speed the whole way, and near the end some of the curves have some pretty extreme laterals because of it. It’s a great ride, but we only rode it once ($15 a pop isn’t very re-ridable…).
That done, it was time to head to the Twin Cities, where we would spend most of our time.
Clear Lake, Iowa
They had a wonderful little city park that served as a great spot for a picnic lunch.
This is the one Minnesotans call "the lake"--Superior!
It's a working lake, and we saw plenty of boats.
National Registry of Historic Places credit!
It's not a sandy beach, but it's the only beach we're going to this year.
Here's the family in front of a tugboat memorial or something.
Here they are goofing off in front of a lighthouse.
Duluth from the lighthouse is beautiful at sunset.
The next day we did some sightseeing. This is their library. Incredible architecture, right up there with Columbia, Missouri's library. Seriously that's a cool building.
And we climb a mountain to reach Minnesota's most northerly coaster.
Now in the Twin Cities, our first destination was the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, a free public zoo that also contains a very large number of amusement rides and one roller coaster! On the way over there, we stopped by the new home of the Twin Cities Model Railroad Museum, just down the street from the former Amtrak Midway Station. There were several displays under construction, but as a bonus, it was steeply discounted, as they’re in a “preview” stage at the moment. There were several Lionel and Thomas sets that the kids could control, as well as some more elaborate layouts. It was a small museum, though I understand it’s bigger than the previous location, so we were there for about an hour before moving on to the zoo.
The zoo itself is very small; the polar bear exhibit was impressive, but other than that, there’s not a lot to stand out here. They do have the basics, though, including giraffes and gorillas, so there was enough to keep the kids entertained.
Once we had seen all the animals, we made our way over to Como Town. This is the sort of place that young children can go nuts for, and ours (8, 6, & 4) had a great time. There are a couple of unique flats, including this bizarre firefighting water gun thing. Just see the photo below; it’s hard to explain. The Tiger Trax coaster is a standard Galaxi model, but they have a good and long miniature train ride and a driving school! The kids had a great time driving around, and the park gives out “driver’s licences” when they get off the ride. It was a great time!
Theming: No attempt is made at theming, though the landscaping is nice.
Food: Very good. We didn’t buy any in Como Town itself, but on the zoo side they had a wonderful variety, including some Asian noodle dishes. Way above the average zoo fare.
Service: Above average. Employees never went out of their way to be helpful, but if approached, they provided whatever help/information they could. Met my expectiations.
Waterpark: They had a splash area for the kids. We didn’t realize they would have this, so we didn’t bring swimsuits this day, and thus didn’t go to the splash area. It looked like it would be fun, though.
Flat rides: This is pretty much the majority of the park. The driving school is the standout, but they had a lot of the standards: tilt-a-whirl, bumper cars, frog hopper, etc. The firefighting ride is a highlight; just so bizarre, and very fun.
Coaster: Just the one, Tiger Trax, a standard Galaxi. The height limit doesn’t really make sense to me; they required 51” with a parent, meaning my son could ride Wild Thing and SpongeBob, but not this little thing. I don’t understand. I rode it with my oldest daughter, though, and she had a good time.
Miniature worlds abound.
There's some great detail in a lot of these.
Part of the recreation of the Empire Builder (Chicago-Seattle).
St. Paul Union Station (new home of Amtrak)
This was part of an FAO Schwartz display.
The highlight of the displays was this amusement park.
For the control panel enthusiasts.
We are on a lift hill....
The Ferris wheel was not the tallest I've ever seen, but it looked fun.
The Cha-cha was this park's inferior Scrambler.
The circus show was fun, though.
Wonder what's going to replace Dinos Alive when the contract runs out?
This park has a classic carousel.
The chairswings was pretty low capacity, though.
This Scrambler was much better than Cha-cha.
Seriously, who builds a mini-golf course with only 3 holes?
The other of the park's two carousels.
Nice midway, complete with shooting gallery.
On to the zoo. The kids loved exploring the conservatory.
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